The Marine Debris Act

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Marine Debris Program is authorized by Congress to work on marine debris through the Marine Debris Act, signed into law in 2006 and amended in 2012, 2018, and 2020. The Act requires the program to “identify, determine sources of, assess, prevent, reduce, and remove marine debris and address the adverse impacts of marine debris on the economy of the United States, marine environment, and navigation safety.” 
 
The Save Our Seas Act of 2018 (Public Law 115-265) was signed into law in October 2018. This law amends and reauthorizes the Marine Debris Act for four years, promotes international action to reduce marine debris in our ocean, authorizes cleanup and response actions needed as a result of severe marine debris events, such as hurricanes or tsunamis, and updates the membership of the Interagency Marine Debris Coordinating Committee. Additionally, the Act authorizes and requires NOAA to work with other Federal agencies to develop additional outreach and education strategies to address sources of marine debris.
 
The Save Our Seas 2.0 Act of 2020 (Public Law 116-224) was signed into law in December 2020. The Act contains three titles that enhance: (1) the United States’ domestic programs to address marine debris, (2) international engagement to combat marine debris, and (3) domestic infrastructure to prevent marine debris. 
 
Significant components of the Act for the NOAA Marine Debris Program include:

  • Authorizing the NOAA Marine Debris Program to work on marine debris around the world;
  • Establishing a Marine Debris Foundation;
  • Establishing a Genius Prize for Save Our Seas Innovation; and
  • Requiring several new reports and studies on different aspects of marine debris, including the sources and impacts of derelict fishing gear, innovative uses of plastic waste, microfiber pollution, vessel recycling, and the United States’ contribution to global plastic pollution, as well as a pilot program for providing incentives to fishermen to collect and dispose of plastic found at sea.